Raleigh outbreak linked to convention center banquet caterer, not Shereton

WRAL in Raleigh reported today that the Shereton Hotel (at right, exactly as shown, with ambulances taking kids away), the focus of an outbreak investigation about a month ago (150+ teenagers ill at a statewide YMCA youth leadership conference) was not likely the source of the illnesses, nor was norovirus likely the pathogen of concern.

The updated information released by Dr. Megan Davies, , state epidemiologist,  was that students who ate at a banquet on Feb 12 were more than 3 times more likely to have symptoms than those who didn’t attend. Best guest of investigators conducting a follow-up study reviewing all the symptoms, is that a foodborne toxin (likely due to temperature abuse) was the likely culprit.

“The timing of the outbreak and the fact that most sick attendees had only diarrhea and not vomiting make it unlikely that norovirus was the main cause of the outbreak,” Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Still, some students might have had norovirus when they arrived at the conference in Raleigh.”
The short time between the dinner and the onset of illness makes it more likely that bacterial toxins, a common cause of food poisoning, were to blame, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting tests to pinpoint the toxin that caused the illnesses.

Convention Center Director Roger Krupa was quoted as saying "At this point, it’s hard to accept the report. All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial. There are no lab results, no food samples, nothing factual."

Epidemiology and statistics are pretty powerful; science isn’t used to prove or disprove anything, but to provide best guesses. And the best guess in this situation, with the current info, was that the banquet facilities were the likely source.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.